“Who would be young and be a farmer?” That was the stark question Hereford author and film-maker Anne Cottringer asked herself in February 2009 as she sat listening to a debate about so-called factory farming at the Borderlines Film Festival.
Three years on, she delivers a rather more upbeat answer in her documentary Tune for the Blood, chronicling the lives of eight Herefordshire young farmers, which premieres this weekend (26 February) at the festival’s 10th anniversary.
Graham Richards, who farms on the remote Black Mountains, can see the beauty of his rugged surroundings but freely admits they’re frequently “a pain”.
Richard Thomas, meanwhile, says: “When it’s the middle of December and it gets dark at half past two and the rain’s coming down horizontal and it’s so cold the dog goes home you think: ‘Crikey,why the hell am I doing this?'”
The answer, of course, lies in the title, taken from Herefordshire poet John Masefield’s Tewkesbury Road. “O, to feel the beat of the rain and the homely smell of the earth /Is a tune for the blood to jig to, and joy past words.”
The desire to stay on the farm “no matter what”, to “be outside doing something”, to “not lose that link with farming” and the close-knit family life that revolves around it is the recurring thread throughout this documentary.
Some farmers’ children may leave to seek their fortune elsewhere, but these guys want to stay at home.
As Christine Hope says: “Their identity is linked to the land. It isn’t just a matter of economics.”
“I am doing what I love,” says Graham Richards. “I love farming and I’m doing this job. I want to be doing this in 20 years’ time.”
The unspoken question is, of course: Will they? Those filmed speak eloquently about the odds stacked against small family farms: succession issues, high capital costs, the threat of TB and the vagaries of the market.
“There was no need for me to hammer home the themes,” Anne says. But there is an unspoken sense of elegy, heightened by the moody soundtrack by folk bassist Danny Thompson.
“Seeing the finished film, we suddenly felt as if we were watching a lost world,” says Russell Carrington (pictured below). “Even now, 99% of farms aren’t like that.”
Nevertheless the mood remains upbeat. “At the end I just thought: What fantastic people,” says Christine Hope. “It made me appreciate what I normally take for granted – just how capable and skilled my friends are.”
Anne adds: “They are such enthusiastic young people. I really want it to work out for them. I would love to go on filming every year to see what happens to them all. It would be an invaluable document recording the story of traditional farming that is crucial to all our lives: the food we eat has to arrive on our table in some way.”
Making the “low budget no budget” film has been something of a labour of love for Anne and Richard. Three years of filming and months organising, logging and transcribing the 160 hours of footage pre edit went unpaid.
“Filmmaking is a bit like farming – it’s a real risk when you set out and it takes quite a while to get to the final product. Even then you’re not sure how it will be received.”
Now Anne is seeking sponsors to get the film into festivals, alternative distribution networks like the Herefordshire and Shropshire-based Flicks in the Sticks. “Increasingly this is the way films get seen,” she says.
And what next for the young farmers? “We keep trying to do what we’ve always been doing, but a little bit better,” says Richard Thomas. “There are a lot of young people out and about doing things in Herefordshire. You can grow anything here: as they say, all you need to get started is 10 sheep and a stick.”
The 600-strong Herefordshire Federation of Young Farmers Clubs is certainly taking the opportunity to get out and about, rolling out the green carpet at the Courtyard in Hereford and showcasing displays of livestock, produce and tractors together with their skills and businesses on Sunday (26 February) betwween 1pm-5pm, ahead of Tune for the Blood‘s premiere.
“We are taking a proactive step to engage with the wider public,” says Russell Carrington. He and his fellow farmers will all be there.
And if the film makes them stars? “We’ll take it in our stride,” beams Jono.
* Tune for the Blood, Sunday 26 February, 7.30pm; Thursday 1 March 8.15pm; Wednesday 7 March 2pm; £6.50 (concessions £5.50); The Courtyard, Edgar Street, Hereford 01432 340555/ firstname.lastname@example.org.
Borderlines Film festival
The 10th annual Borderlines Film Festival, the UK’s largest rural film festival, kicks off on Friday (24 February) with an 11am showing of the much-praised silent movie, The Artist, at the glass and steel arts centre The Courtyard in Hereford.
The same day at 7.30pm in Dorstone, a small village at the head of the Golden Valley, filmgoers will be settling down in the village hall to a screening of Resistance, a drama set in 1944 German-occupied Britain and filmed in the Olchon Valley on the English/Welsh border.
It’s typical of the eclectic mix of films and venues that makes up this festival. Established in 2003 to boost regional film-making and film-going in Herefordshire and Shropshire, Borderlines has grown to one of the most far-flung and best attended film festivals in the UK.
This year, more than 230 screenings and events span 20 villages and market towns across 2,000 square miles of two of the UK’s most rurally isolated counties.
Over 17 days, more than 14,000 people are expected to pack into 36 venues, ranging from stuccoed assembly rooms to one of the UK’s last parlour bars to see the 70-plus films on offer.
For the 10th anniversary there is a strong farming theme, both factual and fictional. As well as screening Tune for the Blood on the opening weekend of the festival and again on 1 and 7 March, aficionados of the long-running tale of farming folk can go behind the scenes of The Archers with agricultural adviser Steve Peacock and senior sound adviser Louise Willcox.
In addition, the organisers are promoting things to see and do in the Herefordshire villages and market towns taking part in the festival. (see more details online. A further mini-festival, featuring open-air shows, is planned for 4-20 May 2012.
For full programme and screening details see here.